An electronic BMJ survey in the UK of 2782 respondents (out of 9036 invitations) revealed that 13% of the respondents had either witnessed or had first hand knowledge of research misconduct. Not only that, but the respondents also felt that about half of these cases had been inadequately investigated.
some reluctance in the establishment to press home early allegations.
Another kettle about to boil over involves Dr BA Aggarwal at another prestigious establishment, the MD Anderson Cancer Center. He is apparently under investigation at the moment. In Singapore, we have the Alirio Melendez story, which has been under investigation for an extremely long time without any apparent outcome.
Is research misconduct a problem in Singapore? It is hard to tell. But there is nothing to indicate that we are any more or less ethical compared to researchers in UK or the US. The absence of any national ombudsman to investigate allegations of misconduct may limit the identification and surfacing of such cases. Blogs such as Abnormal Science and Retraction Watch do occasionally flag out some questionable practices from Singapore (see here), but there is currently no indication that our research establishments are taking any of these seriously. I guess Lord Horatio Nelson rules in Singapore with respect to investigating misconduct in biomedical research.
I should make it very clear that I make a very clear distinction between allegations and proven misconduct. Much of what has been highlighted in blogs such as Abnormal Science are little more than allegations, and even if there are malpractices, it is unclear what actually happened and who is responsible for the 'errors'. Nevertheless research establishments do need to recognize the presence of these allegations in the blogosphere and to deal with them. It is not in anybody's interested to pretend that such allegations do not exist, especially if they are accompanied by documentary evidences of questionable data integrity. We need to have these properly pinned down, and if there is any real misconduct, the research community and particularly the students need to be aware of these pitfalls and wrong doings.
For further reading, please see:
Singapore statement on research integrity
Columbia University portal for Responsible Conduct of Research
Given the amount of money we are pouring into biomedical research in Singapore, it is somewhat surprising that we do not take the policing of research misconduct more seriously. Perhaps it is time we had a national ombudsman for this purpose.